Studying English and Media at my university has opened my eyes to a whole different section of literature that I never thought I would enjoy: short stories. Not just any old short story though, short stories that have a deeper meaning and a through close reading, you can take a lot away from it.
That’s the exact experience I had when reading To Room Nineteen by Doris Lessig. It’s classed as a short story, but it’s longer than you would think a short story to be but it’s not a novella (like Robert Louis Stevenson’s, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde).
If you have any negative ideas about short stories and how ‘they’re boring’, To Room Nineteen will completely dispel any negativity you feel.
Susan Rawlings is married to a man she has loved, has four beloved children, is financially comfortable, and seeks a centre and purpose for her life. She thinks she has the perfect marriage.
But all is not as it seems in the Rawlings household. Susan will find out… But how will Susan respond?
I could dissect each and every paragraph for you and tell you which techniques Lessing uses to make this story phenomenal. But alas, this is no English essay, this is me telling you how amazing Lessing is as a writer and that you need to read this short story (if you don’t want to buy Lessing’s’ collection of short stories that includes this one, then you can read To Room Nineteen online in a pdf format.
From the very first sentence of the story, we are thrown straight into the marriage of Matthew and Susan Rawlings and the dynamic of their relationship. We are shown that they are seen by all of their friends as the ‘perfect couple’ and a match-made in heaven. They think they are as well. But Susan finds out certain things about her marriage that start to affect her personally and in a way – for me – that is 100% relatable (to a certain extent).
“Except that forgiveness is hardly the word. Understanding, yes. But if you understand something, you don’t forgive it, you are the thing itself: forgiveness is for what you don’t understand.”
– Dorris Lessing, To Room Nineteen
With most short stories, there isn’t time for character development because those few pages are just about a single plot. But in To Room Nineteen, I found that the characters seemed to be built beautifully and that I knew them well without the 100 chapters of building the foundations that you would find in a novel.
I cannot say much about this story as there is so much that happens, it’s very hard not to reveal any spoilers. But just know this: there is beautiful writing in the dialogue, in the descriptions of the settings, the characters and their feelings and a beautiful story that leaves you shocked at the end.
I am very grateful to have studied short stories at university because my eyes were opened to Lessing’s work and I cannot wait to buy her whole collection and I find her writing so engaging. There’s another book that can be added to my to-buy list!
Warning: contains references to depression
Side note: I didn’t read To Room Nineteen online. It was included in a book that I had to buy for university called The Penguin Book of Modern British Short Stories (edited by Malcolm Bradbury) and includes short stories from Ted Hughes, J.G Ballard, John Fowles and Angela Carter